There’s a saying, “You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family”. I have been lucky enough to be able to actually choose some of my family. I was married to Larry for 25 years. I like to joke that when we got divorced, I got custody of my in-laws.
But let’s go back to the beginning. When I was 24, I first met the family of my fiancée, Larry. Larry’s parents had just separated. So when I was being introduced to the family, so was my father-in-law, Bert’s, new girlfriend, Joy. They married and were together until his death over 40-years later.
At the time, I was in law school in Washington D.C. with Larry but my parents had a summer-house in Easton, CT. Larry and I spent time there when we could. Coincidentally, Joy lived 15 minutes from my house in Easton in an adjoining town. Larry and I moved back to New York City after law school and ended up spending more and more time in Easton, CT.
So, over the years, we spent a lot of time with Bert and Joy, particularly after we had our two children. When I was 40 and my kids were five and ten, we moved full-time to Connecticut. Bert and Joy became an even bigger part of our lives.
To be honest, Larry never got along that well with anyone in his family, particularly his Dad. So when we separated, it was only natural that I maintained my relationship with Bert and Joy. It became a bit more odd when I met Tom and we became a couple. But Bert and Joy just adopted him into the family too.
Around the time of the separation, Bert and Joy moved to Florida. They wanted to spend part of every summer in Connecticut so they could see their old friends and family. Guess who Bert and Joy stayed with for six weeks a year for the next decade or so? Me, and then me and Tom after we got married. Bert and Joy would spend maybe two nights with his daughter and one or two with Larry. The rest of the time it was me and Tom all the way (along with whichever child was home for the summer).
Bert and Joy loved Tom and Tom loved them. People thought it was strange that Tom was okay living with his wife’s ex-husband’s father and step mother. We got along famously and enjoyed our time together. It was sometimes difficult for Tom to explain how he was ‘related’ to Bert, but other than that, things went smoothly.
This was considered peculiar for the rest of the family. Other family members had ‘issues’ with Bert and Joy. They were known in the family as difficult, arrogant, critical, and opinionated. Tom and I just did our own thing and ignored these negative traits that drove their biological family crazy.
When Bert and Joy had to move into assisted living, and after that, a nursing home, I flew to Florida with my sister-in-law to help them move and adjust. (Larry died suddenly in 2005 at the age of 58). I was there for Bert until the end. When Bert did estate planning and gave gifts to his children and grandchildren, I was included in his generosity. He always supported me in every way.
I lost my Dad in 1981 when I was 31 and he was 90. From my thirties into my sixties, Bert was my only ‘Dad’. It was a wonderful, mutually beneficial relationship. In fact, Bert was my ‘Dad’ longer than my real Dad was. So I got to ‘choose’ a surrogate father. My life, as well as Tom’s, was much richer because of that choice.